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Italy’s War on Migrants

Italy has been particularly hard hit by Europe’s migrant crisis
By The News · 01 of August 2017 09:32:54
This image shows migrants being rescued at sea. Survivor accounts have pushed to more than 700 the number of migrants feared dead in Mediterranean Sea shipwrecks over three days in the past week, even as rescue ships saved thousands of others in daring operations, This undated image made available Monday, May 30, 2016 by the Italian Navy Marina Militare shows migrants being rescued at sea. Survivor accounts have pushed to more than 700 the number of migrants feared dead in Mediterranean Sea shipwrecks over three days in the past week, even as rescue ships saved thousands of others in daring operations. (Italian Navy via AP), photo: Italian navy, via AP

Italy has taken the phrase “war on migrants” to a whole new level.

As of last week, the European country’s center-left prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, has been pushing a plan to send Italian warships into Libyan territorial waters to fight against human traffickers who have smuggled thousands of migrants to Italian shores.

The scheme to scare (and if necessary, use force against) smugglers came on the heels of a deal Gentiloni and his team had just hammered out with Tripoli to allow Rome more freedom to “discourage” illegal migration to Europe from the African coastline, and is the latest step by Italy to try to curb the flow of undocumented immigrants to its soil.

Italy, the continent’s third-largest economy, has been particularly hard hit by Europe’s migrant crisis, registering an increase of nearly 100,000 migrants this year alone, representing a 7 percent surge compared to the same period last year.

But upping the ante in the fight against human traffickers is an inherently dangerous ploy.

While the plan must first be approved by Italy’s parliament (which can be a political labyrinth for even the simplest of proposals), if passed, there is bound to be plenty of debate as to exactly what circumstances would constitute a legitimate use of force.

Tentatively, Italy is expected to launch between three and six ships along the African coast, as well as employing a barrage of helicopters, fighter jets and drones to intimidate the smuggling rings.

Gentiloni has said that the primary objective would be to create a “show of force” that would act as a deterrent for the smugglers (in other words, all bark and no bite).

But if the smugglers were to decide to call Italy’s bluff, tensions could soon escalate to the point of a full-on military confrontation that could easily spill over into an already volatile North Africa.

That, in turn, would lead to even more political instability in the region and more asylum seekers heading to Europe, and the vicious cycle of mass migration would only accelerate.

Clearly, using warships to try to curb the flow of African migrants into Europe is not a viable solution.

It’s time for Italy to rethink its war on migrants.

Thérèse Margolis can be reached at therese.margolis@gmail.com.